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Hybrid Hypotheticals

In order to determine whether you are disabled under the Social Security Act, the adjudicator must determine your residual functional capacity (RFC) when applying the medical-vocational framework (SSR 83-10). Social Security Administration uses the criteria developed by the Department of Labor in classifying occupations ranging from sedentary to very heavy exertion levels. The exertion level table arranges the categories based on weight lifted and hours spent sitting or standing (C.F.R. § 404.1567). At times, the medical evidence may suggest an RFC which does not neatly fit into these categories. For example, where an individual could occasionally lift 25 pounds and frequently left 10 pounds, the exertional capacity falls in between the requirements for medium and light work. In cases where such hybrid hypotheticals emerge, your representative may refer to Programs Operation Manual System (POMS) DI 25025.015, effective 3/27/15. (Although not binding at the hearing level, the POMS rule maintains persuasive authority).

POMS DI 25025.015 addresses how to use the medical-vocational framework in situations where the residual functional capacity falls in between two exertion categories. The outcome seems clear when the exertional capacity falls between two “not disabled” rules or two “disabled rules (See DI 25025.015B and DI 25025.015C). However, it is a more difficult judgment when the exertional capacity falls between two different conclusions (DI 25025.015D). The decision-maker must apply the higher exertion category if he or she concludes the claimant has a slightly reduced capacity, or the lower exertion category if the claimant has a significantly reduced capacity (Id.). The adjudicator should take administrative notice of reliable job information from a variety of sources, including the Department of Labor’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) and vocational specialists in certain cases (SSR 00-4p). While vocational expertise may be useful in determining whether the number of jobs available is slightly reduced or significantly reduced, the adjudicator has an affirmative responsibility to resolve conflicts of information not consistent with the DOT (Id.).

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